8th-century medical treatise lost in Japan found in China

(ORDO NEWS) — The secret knowledge that the Buddhist monk Jianzhen brought to the Land of the Rising Sun was considered long lost. It turned out that secret recipes were passed down from generation to generation in the same family.

In 743, the emperor of Japan invited the Chinese monk Jianzhen (the Japanese version of the name is Ganjin) to visit the islands to establish Buddhism there.

It took Jianzhen ten years and five attempts to cross the East China Sea. Officials of the Land of the Rising Sun were not happy with the decision of the emperor and in every possible way prevented the trip.

Sometimes the elements also intervened: the ships fell into storms, not reaching Japan, and turned to the mainland.

During the ten-year journey, the monk caught an infection and became blind, but nevertheless, on December 20, 753, he arrived in Kagoshima.

From there he went to Nara (where the court of the ruler was then located), where he was graciously received by the emperor.

8th century medical treatise lost in Japan found in China 1
A Chinese monk traveled to Japan for ten years. The map shows the difficult way he did it

For the next ten years, until his death, Jianzhen was a key figure in the promotion of Buddhism in Japan: he founded the Rishu school, one of the six early Buddhist schools. But the monk brought to the islands not only spiritual practices.

He also passed on his pharmacological and medical knowledge, including a book known as The Secret Recipe of Jianshangeng (priest Jianzhen).

This work contained information on 36 types of herbal medicines, each of which had a different pharmacological effect, as well as recipes for various combinations for the treatment of various diseases.

The fact that the monk handed over to the Japanese the manuscript of his treatise is known to us from Japanese texts.

Some of them preserved fragments of the “Secret Recipe”. But the book itself was considered lost.

A group of Japanese and Chinese researchers wanted to see what impact this text had on modern herbal medicine.

In the process, they discovered that this text had recently been published in China – although the publisher was not aware of what exactly he had published.

Scientists have found that before Jianzhen went to Japan, he passed the same recipes to his student, a monk named Lingyun.

For obvious reasons, the Buddhist monk had no direct descendants, so the manuscript was kept in the family of his relatives for 52 generations.

Although some of the knowledge from The Secret Recipe has been lost, the new publication contains 766 of the 1200 original recipes from the 8th century text.

It is curious that the medical treatise teaches how to prepare not only pills, powders and ointments, but also contains recipes for soups and rice wine – as general tonic.

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Jianzhen brought samples of traditional Chinese medicine ingredients to Japan

Jianzhen gave guidance not only on mixing ingredients, but also on their correct selection.

The paper says: “From this book, we know that it is necessary to choose high-quality medicinal materials that are pleasant to the touch and taste, not to use alternative medicinal materials, to choose herbal medicines of the correct origin and seasonal.

Each remedy must be carefully determined by the eyes, the nose, the licking of the tongue, the touching of the hands.”

When Jianzhen came to Japan, he brought with him various traditional ingredients from China: musk, agarwood, rosin, mastic (pistachio) wood, and whatnot, including honey and sugar cane.

These and other components form the basis of 36 herbal medicines that form the basis of the herbal healing practice in Japan, known as kampo .

This practice is not considered purely folk medicine: it is quite deeply integrated into the modern health care system in Japan.

Campo preparations are prescribed along with modern medicines and are covered by the National Health Insurance.

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